Keith Lazarus was excited when he heard North Carolinas unclaimed property fund had $37,000 that belonged to him and his wife, Jennifer.
I was making big plans for it, said Lazarus, of Concord.
Those plans ended in a hurry this week when Lazarus discovered the money was actually from a bank savings account that he and his wife had started many years ago and thought was earning interest. To his surprise, the bank had transferred the money to the state, saying it had lost track of the Lazarus family.
What makes it so strange is that we have active funds with the same bank, and they send us statements all the time, he added.
Theirs is a cautionary tale of staying in touch with your bank, insurance company and investment firms and of checking the states unclaimed property data base, just in case.
The surprise money came to light this week, when State Treasurer Janet Cowells office launched another of its periodic promotional programs, this time with Charlottes WBTV, to remind the public about the fund, called NC Cash. The Treasurer Offices website has a special page dedicated to the program, enabling people to enter their names and learn if unclaimed cash is awaiting them.
Cowell says about one in eight North Carolina residents has money waiting for them.
The funds come from bank accounts, utility deposits, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, bonds and other unclaimed property that has been handed over to the state by companies that cannot locate the owners.
Lazarus said WBTVs producers told him they had good news for him that they had found money in his and his wifes names.
The two were presented an oversized check in a special ceremony, and thats when they learned the money was from a savings account theyd opened with Fifth Third Bank.
My wife started it when she was in high school, Lazarus said. We knew it was there, but we were letting it build interest.
What they didnt know is that when they moved, they did not provide the bank with their new address, to send statements on the account.
They had our new address for our other accounts, but not the old account, Lazarus said. After this happened, I checked with the bank. They said they had sent us notices, but we didnt respond. Thats because they went to the old address and werent forwarded.
So after a period of time, the bank turned the money over to the state.
Officials from the Treasurers Office and Fifth Third Bank did not return messages asking for comment.
Not all of the states surprises fall this flat.
At the N.C. State Fair in October, Cowell stunned Jan Schnurr, a Wake County elementary school teacher, with a check for $55,000. State officials say one person at the fair found he had more than $100,000 in the fund.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, the N.C. Treasurers Office returned $15.7 million in about 7,100 claims.
There is no statute of limitations on making a claim. And if the owner of the money has died, the executor of the estate can make the claim.
The Treasurers Office also visits public events around the state, offering people a chance to check the database there. One of those events will be the CIAA Tournament Fan Experience, March 1-3 at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Lazarus said the whole experience was a disappointment.
We were taking our kids to Disney World, he said. But you live and learn.